Written by Daniel Metz
ISTANBUL, TURKEY – Deep in the European side of Istanbul, hidden in the historic Fatih district, a volunteer coordinator stood outside his organization’s main center and donned a pair of sunglasses as he lit a cigarette. It was June, and at the end of the month, the Turkish Ministry of National Education was to begin limiting the educational services that NGOs could provide, and it meant NGOs in Turkey had to restructure or proceed with caution. The volunteer coordinator, who asked for him and his organization to be unnamed, leaned against a wall, took a drag from his cigarette and said, “It’s not a great time to be an NGO in Istanbul.”
Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, the Turkish government has taken in more Syrian refugees than any other country—it shares a border with Syria and had an open-door policy. About 3.2 million Syrians live in Turkey, 92 percent of whom live outside of the refugee camps. Istanbul has accommodated more refugees than any other city, with estimates ranging from 400,000 to 700,000—about 5 percent of its population of 14.5 million. In comparison, more Syrians have registered in Istanbul than have collectively registered in every country in Europe except Germany, according to United Nations High Council on Refugees’ 2016 statistics.